Wells Food Festival returns to England’s smallest city on October 8, with Charlie Bigham’s as the headline sponsor for the fourth year running. Charlie’s passion permeates everything he does, whether it is creating delicious dishes for foodies or getting involved in the local community - and the festival successfully combines both these interests.

The company was founded in 1996, inspired by Charlie’s travels around the world where many of his best meals were created from a handful of fresh ingredients tossed into a pan. Seven years ago he added a second kitchen to the business when he moved into the Quarry Kitchen in Dulcote just outside Wells. 'Having looked at more than 30 sites, we knew that the disused quarry was the right spot to build something different and make something really exceptional,’ says Charlie. ‘If you want to make truly remarkable food, a good place to start is a location that is inspiring, unusual and with a little bit of magic about it.’

Charlie divides his time between both the London kitchen and Wells. ‘London is the home for our innovation,’ he explains, ‘whilst our Somerset team’s talent is to bring consistent quality to our established, favourite dishes and recipes.’ Not only has the Quarry Kitchen brought employment to more than 300 local people, but Charlie Bigham’s actively contributes to a number of local initiatives. ‘When you get involved in a community you feel like you’re surrounded by friends; it’s incredibly important to get involved and build on the already, strong local connections.’

Whilst some support is ad-hoc, for example recent cooking sessions that were held at Stoberry School, most of the support for local projects is run through Somerset Community Foundation. ‘We have just agreed to a new three-year funding model for Heads Up,’ Charlie explains. ‘Based close to us in Wells, Heads Up is a mental health and wellbeing charity which does vital work with our local community.’

In February 2022, Charlie Bigham’s partnered with the charity FareShare which aims at relieving food poverty and reducing food waste. ‘FareShare plays an equally vital role in our community. In the food industry, there is a lot of edible food going to waste’. Through the charity, Charlie Bigham’s has donated 27,000 meals which have been redistributed to local charities and community groups.

READ MORE: A look ahead to the 2023 Wells Food Festival

With regards to Wells Food Festival, Charlie Bigham’s had been involved for a few years before deciding to become more closely aligned with the event and taking on the role of headline sponsor in 2020. ‘The festival had captured our hearts because of the likeminded approach it has to food,’ he explains. ‘It’s a celebration of the county’s best produce, and the stalls are curated by the committee, guaranteeing both quality and variety.’

Great British Life: Charlie Bigham's team are ready to take your order. Photo: Wells Food FestivalCharlie Bigham's team are ready to take your order. Photo: Wells Food Festival

When the pandemic took hold in 2020, like many other festivals and events the threat of cancellation loomed. The organisers of Wells Food Festival were determined not to miss a year and with Charlie Bigham’s on board they were able to develop alternative ideas, culminating in a virtual foodie extravaganza weekend. ‘2020 was a tough year for everyone. The stallholders make their living from attending festivals and markets, so we wanted look at how to support them by helping to promote their online businesses,’ says Charlie. The virtual festival presented the stallholders with a nationwide audience, and there were talks and cookery demonstrations, along with The Bigham’s Banquet which provided viewers with the chance to cook alongside top chefs as they created dishes live on Zoom. ‘There was nowhere to go, so having a live cook-a-long seemed like a fantastic way to feel connected to other people, whilst creating brilliant food, along with amazing chefs,’ says Charlie.

The banquet also raised money for Chefs in Schools, a charity close to Charlie’s heart. ‘It’s a fantastic initiative, based around helping children have a better relationship with food, from education to health.’ Last year co-founder of the charity and chef, Nicole Pisani, went head-to-head with Thomasina Miers in a ‘Ready Steady Cook’ style competition at Wells Food Festival organised by Charlie Bigham’s. They were provided with ingredients by local producers at the festival and then challenged to create a winning recipe to showcase them.

Great British Life: Charlie Bigham's team are ready to take your order. Photo: Wells Food FestivalCharlie Bigham's team are ready to take your order. Photo: Wells Food Festival

Charlie is also involved with the festival awards, both overseeing an award category and presenting the ‘Best In Show’ award. This provides an opportunity to talk to the people who are growing and producing ingredients, and his customers. ‘Over the 27 years we’ve been making food, our entire range of recipes has changed,’ he says. Of course, there are on-going favourites such as Fish Pie or Paella, ‘but we speak to our customers on a regular basis and ask them what they’re eating and what they’d like to eat. We keep a close eye on trends.’ And there’s nowhere better to do that than at Wells Food Festival, with a fantastic collection of almost 200 talented, inventive, local food producers again this year.

Wells Food Festival takes place from 10.30am to 4.30pm, and is free to enter.